Media mogul Conrad Black?s attorneys launched their defence at his fraud trial Thursday, focusing on more than a dozen boxes of documents prosecutors claim he spirited out of the Toronto offices of his Hollinger International headquarters in defiance of a court order.
Joan Maida, Black?s secretary, insisted that she knew nothing about the order requiring permission from court-appointed inspectors for the removal of documents from the offices.
She said she knew she needed permission from someone to remove documents but had not realized the inspectors were the only ones who could grant such approval and she never discussed such an order with Black.
Under cross examination, the 59-year-old Canadian secretary?s stint on the witness stand swiftly turned into a testy cat-and-mouse game with Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Cramer, who was openly skeptical about her story.
“Do you remember anyone talking to you about a Canadian court order?” Cramer asked. “No,” Maida said.
“You don?t know whether he (Black) knew about the document-retention policy?” Cramer asked. She answered: “No, I do not.”
She repeatedly could not remember what Black said on May 20, 2005, when security cameras captured him carrying the boxes to a waiting car.
When Cramer showed her a photo of Black apparently pointing to a security camera in a hall, she suggested: “Maybe he?s pointing to me.”
“Do you remember him pointing?” Cramer asked.
“No,” Maida said. Cramer projected a massive blow-up of Black?s outstretched finger on a wall screen but failed to learn anything more.
Black, 62, is accused along with three other men of taking part in a scheme that swindled Hollinger International out of tens of millions of dollars after a decision by the company in the late 1990s to sell hundreds of community newspapers that it owned across the United States and Canada.
Purchasers paid millions of dollars to Hollinger International in exchange for promises that the company would not compete with them.
Prosecutors say much of the money was illegally diverted to Black, executives under him and two Canadian companies that he controlled.
After a shareholder rebellion ousted Black in November 2003, the Securities and Exchange Commission launched an investigation. A Canadian judge ordered that no documents were to be removed without approval from court-appointed inspectors from the accounting firm of Ernst & Young.
Black is charged with obstruction of justice for hauling the boxes out of the Hollinger offices on May 20, 2005.
Maida, who still is employed by Black, refused to meet with prosecutors, even after the RCMP called her Toronto home and asked for her co-operation.
Among other things, she admitted that she mailed out T-shirts emblazoned with the words: “Conrad will win.”
“You?re hoping Conrad will be acquitted in this case, you?re hoping Conrad will win?” Cramer asked. “Yes,” she said.
At one point, Maida said that she didn?t realize who the inspectors were when they were going through boxes of documents in the offices.
“Who did you think they were in the spring of 2005?” he said sharply.
“I didn?t even know it was the spring of 2005,” she said.
“They just barged into your office and started looking at documents?”
“I don?t remember what happened,” she said.
At another point, she testified that she had packed four boxes of documents on the morning of May 20.
“Who packed the other eight?” Cramer asked.
“I probably did,” Maida testified.
“You told me that you packed four boxes,” Cramer said, plainly exasperated.